Blair rural plan will disappoint

24 October 2000

Blair rural plan ‘will disappoint’

By Isabel Davies

THE Governments Rural White Paper will disappoint those who actually live and work in the countryside, landowners have predicted.

Anthony Bosanquet, president of the Country Landowners Association, fears the long-awaited paper will be of more comfort to weekend visitors.

Launching the CLAs own version – Towards a sustainable rural economy – Mr Bosanquet feared the Rural White Paper would neglect key questions.

He said the Government did not appreciate that the fortunes of farming could not be divorced from the future of the countryside.

Nor did it appreciate quite how many people were leaving the industry, as bankruptcy figures were not the whole story, said Mr Bosanquet.

“There are young farmers getting out, sons and daughters taking a different direction, and older farmers clinging on by the skin of their teeth even if it meant going short themselves on heating, clothing and food,” he said.

CLA policy director Allan Buckwell outlined a three-tier plan to deliver competitive farming, a better environment and vibrant rural communities.

“These three components are inter-dependent,” he said. “Agricultural policy must become a more integrated rural policy with balanced attention to these three components.”

To make farming exports more competitive the CLA proposes:

  • A strengthened safety net, including revenue insurance schemes and a mechanism to protect against currency fluctuations.

  • Provision of restructuring assistance, including retirement schemes and marketing initiatives.

  • Improving overseas competitiveness by tackling to uneven standards on food safety, welfare and environment and labelling.

  • Reducing red tape.

To enhance the rural environment the CLA calls for:

  • Redefinition of the basis of agri-environment payments recognising that “landscape” cannot be given a market value and that payments deliver public benefit.

  • Review and improvement in the co-ordination of environmental land management advice and incentives.

To help create vibrant rural communities the CLA wants to:

  • Improve the skills base of rural enterprises, by working towards the creation of one-stop shops for information and advice.

  • Overhaul the planning system and modify tax regulations to encourage diversification.

Prof Buckwell said a re-defined rural policy growing out of traditional “agricultural” policy is required to tackle the crisis in farming.

“Only if these issues are tackled with real intent, not condemned to talking shops, will the rural communities of England and Wales be able to move forward to an assured future.”

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